Beyond  /  Book Review

The Discovery of Europe

A new book investigates the indigenous Americans who were brought to or traveled to Europe in the 1500s—a story central to the beginning of globalization.

Reading Dodds Pennock’s book, one discovers that Paquiquineo’s experience was not unique. His case is well known because he left archival traces, but hundreds of thousands of other indigenous people went to Europe during the sixteenth century. Their lives and contributions are essential to understanding the beginning of globalization, which, for good and ill, has helped create the modern world.

The vast majority of indigenous people in Europe were brought there as slaves. Although the New Laws unequivocally stated that “naturals,” as people from the Americas were called, could not be enslaved, Dodds Pennock finds credible the estimate that there were 650,000 American slaves in Spain alone. Many of these captives died in servitude, but some sued for and won not only their freedom but return tickets and compensation for labor unwillingly provided.

Others went to Europe—as advocates, entertainers, or spouses—and established themselves in royal, religious, and legal courts. Representatives of indigenous nations crossed the Atlantic with friars like Bartolomé de las Casas, who sided with them in denouncing the abuses of Europeans during their occupations of indigenous lands. Many helped negotiate the colonization process and defend their communities in courts of law. There were cultural specialists who came to teach Europeans: it may be intuitive to plant a tomato and make sauce with it, but to make chocolate from cacao beans is less obvious. There were men and women—acrobats, musicians, animal tamers—who displayed their spectacular abilities and stayed in Europe simply because nobody took them back home once the tour was done. They married, had children, and were buried in cemeteries where they are still not commemorated as early agents of globalization.

For some five hundred years we have studied the Atlantic cultural and commercial exchange as a pipeline through which Europe sent people to the Americas and the Americas sent back commodities. In Dodds Pennock’s comprehensive study, this idea, like so many we have about the period, is revealed to be a Eurocentric fantasy. “We need to invert our understanding of encounter to see transatlantic migration and connection,” she writes, “not just as stretching to the west, but also as originating there.”